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Sister, SOTR award TV development deal

Phoebe Waller-Bridge congratulates Jenna Al–Ansari

Chernobyl producer Sister and Olivia Colman’s prodco South of the River Pictures (SOTR) have given a TV development commission to a new writer-performer as part of their inaugural Screenshot competition.

Bahraini-British performer Jenna Al-Ansari won for her one-woman political satire Protect & Survive, which was picked out by a panel that included BBC commissioning editor Tanya Qureshi, Channel 4 head of comedy Fiona McDermott and Sky commissioning editor Tilusha Ghelani.

Olivia Colman

The show saw Al-Ansari, who only started writing in 2019, take to the stage as newly minted Conservative MP Bambi Buttery-Potts, battling to have her nuclear protection campaign taken seriously.

Colman, who served on the judgling panel alongside writer-performer talent such as Lolly Adefope, Rosie Jones and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, described it as “one of the best, most complete performances I’ve seen in a long time.”

Al-Ansari will now be brought on to Sister and SOTR’s development slates and has been commissioned by the prodcos to write a pilot episode based on the show.

The Screenshot initiative was set up as a response to the impact Covid-19 has had on the performing arts sector and is designed to seek out the next generation of comedy writer-performers for TV.

First announced in October 2020, the competition received more than 600 entrants, who were whittled down to 13 finalists who performed at the live, socially distanced showcase held at London’s The Royal Court Theatre on May 1.

The runners up were writing duo Dawn Sievewright and Brennan Reece, sisters Madelyn and Rose Smedley, Krishna Istha, who was performing via video link from New Zealand, Sophie Bentinck and Natasha Brown.

The organisers said the calibre of the performances was so high that two of five bursaries up for grabs for the runners-up were elevated to treatment commissions.

Sievewright and Reece and the Smedleys will now work with the development teams at Sister and SOTR to produce a television outline for their projects.

Jane Featherstone

Istha, Bentinck and Brown, meanwhile, will receive a contribution towards the development or budget of their next live theatrical show.

The initiative was produced by Debo Adebayo, a producer at touring theatre company Tamasha, alongside the Sister and SOTR development teams.

The judging panel also included Sister co-founder and chief creative officer Jane Featherstone (Chernobyl, Giri/Haji, Utopia), executive producer Naomi de Pear (Flowers, Don’t Forget the Driver, The Power) and SOTR co-founder and writer Ed Sinclair (Landscapers).

Members of the panel said the competition “served as a vital reminder to nurture emerging voices, given all the industry has suffered over this past year.”

SOTR was set up in 2019 with backing from Elisabeth Murdoch, Stacey Snider and Sister.

Adebayo said: “Protect & Survive is as much belly-achingly funny as it is brave. Jenna’s performance was outstanding. She is a thoroughly deserving winner and I can’t wait to see what she develops. Huge congratulations to all the finalists for making it down to the last 13. Each and every one is a wonder.”

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